NEW YORK -- Jake Westbrook did what he felt he needed to do, and everyone wearing the road grays benefited. Westbrook worked quickly and efficiently on a stiflingly hot day, pacing the Cardinals to a snappy 6-2 win over the Mets at Citi Field on Thursday.
Westbrook needed a mere 90 pitches to get 24 outs, and the game was over in two hours, seven minutes. The right-hander's brisk pace was mostly to keep himself locked in, but his defense was delighted to be getting off the field in short order as well.
"A day like this, that's what you want," said Albert Pujols, who set the Cards on their way with a two-run first-inning homer. "You don't want to have your offensive players being out there standing around. Jake worked fast, and obviously he made some good pitches today -- and we got some big hits, too."
Westbrook played the role of stopper for a team that needed it, as the Cardinals won for the first time in four games. St. Louis happily accepted a couple of free gifts from the Mets, with two errors helping fuel a three-run Cards fifth inning.
Pujols' two-run homer in the first inning was a tone-setter, giving St. Louis a lead it would not relinquish. Pujols worked a nine-pitch at-bat against Jon Niese, hammering a high cut fastball off the façade at the base of the second deck in left field.
"It's always nice when you get the lead," Westbrook said. "Albert had a great at-bat there in the first inning. It's always nice to have a lead before you even go out there."
Four innings later, after the Mets had made it a 2-1 game, New York kicked the ball around in a three-run fifth that salted the game away for the Cards. Two Mets errors combined with a walk, a Daniel Descalso double and Jon Jay's RBI single to add up to three runs.
Westbrook sparkled, hardly facing trouble all afternoon. He relentlessly pounded the ground, inducing 18 ground-ball outs while permitting six balls all afternoon to do so much as reach the outfield. He displayed the efficiency that he's sought all year, and continued a recent upward trend.
It was the third solid outing in four for the right-hander, who has arrested the high walk totals that plagued him earlier in the year. Westbrook issued one walk, the sixth time in seven starts that he's had fewer than two.
He presented challenges even to hitters who had seen him plenty of times in the past.
"I faced him before when he was with Cleveland, and he was a sinker-type of pitcher and curveball and changeup," said the Mets' Carlos Beltran. "But now he has a cutter, so he was using the cutter inside to make you think he was going to come inside, and then sinkers away. He kept us off-balance real good."
Mostly, Westbrook kept the ball on the ground, which has been his calling card throughout his Major League career. Both times the Mets put a runner on first base with fewer than two outs, Westbrook coaxed a double-play ball from the next batter.
Jose Reyes scored on a ground ball after tripling, and Lucas Duda scored on a single after stroking a double in the eighth. Other than that, the game was uneventful in the best possible way for Westbrook.
"That's Jake Westbrook, right there," said Cards infielder Nick Punto. "Keeping the ball down, he had a good changeup, he had a great cutter, and the sinker was his bread and butter all day today. He located that sinker in and out. It's tough for other teams to get hits when he does that."
The Cardinals won for the second time in six games since the All-Star break. They moved back within 1 1/2 games of the first-place Brewers, who played later Thursday, in the National League Central. The Pirates are in second place, one-half game back, and St. Louis begins a three-game series at Pittsburgh on Friday.
"With the heat like this, Jake went out there and gave you eight strong innings," Pujols said. "It was amazing. I know we haven't been having a great road trip so far, but we sneak one out today and now we go to Pittsburgh and hopefully win the series there and turn the road trip around."
Matthew Leach is a reporter for MLB.com. Read his blog, Obviously, You're Not a Golfer and follow him on Twitter at @MatthewHLeach. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.